Auto giant Fiat Chrysler, which has run convention-breaking ads in the Super Bowl since 2009, said Friday it would not run any commercials in the game this Sunday, marking the second big advertiser to pull back from the event this year.
“This year, we will exclusively use social and digital to showcase our commercials. We decided to explore innovative ways to ride the wave of highly engaged viewers, during the one time of the year when the commercials are fun and everybody is talking about them,” said Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of the company’s U.S. operations, in a prepared statement. “With this new approach, we are able to engage with the audience through more creative executions than ever before leading up to this Sunday night.”
Coca-Cola last week said it was planning to run a commercial on CBS just before the kickoff of Super Bowl LIII, and not during the game itself – the first time in more than a decade its commercials will not appear in the Super Bowl itself.
The pullbacks come as the price of advertising in the Super Bowl has surpassed $5 million – not to mention the prices necessary for production, special effects, celebrity spokespeople, pop songs, social-media marketing and retail promotion. CBS, which will broadcast the championship NFL game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams from Atlanta on Sunday, has said it has sold “more than 90%” of its commercial inventory. CBS has been seeking $5.1 million to $5.3 million for Super Bowl ad packages that include a 30-second spot and some digital inventory, according to people familiar with the matter.
Under Francois’ aegis, Fiat Chrysler has aired spectacular ads that shattered previous rules about Super Bowl advertising. Some of its ads, such as a 2011 effort that featured a song from Eminem and talked about the economic revival of Detroit, took up two minutes – an eternity in TV advertising and a costly proposition in the Super Bowl, where 30 seconds of ad time cost millions of dollars.
Another memorable Chrysler ad that ran in 2012 featured actor Clint Eastwood telling viewers it was “halftime in America,” a nod to the recent recession, and urged Americans to get back on their feet. A 2014 ad turned legendary songwriter Bob Dylan into a commercial pitchman. “You can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line.” Dylan said in the ad. “Let Asia assemble your phone…We will build your car.”
Some Super Bowl ads from the auto manufacturer caused controversy. Last year, the company ran a Super Bowl commercial for its Ram Trucks that used a long snippet of Dr. Martin Luther King giving one of his final sermons, known as “The Drum Major Instinct.” In the speech, the civil-rights leader told listeners that in order to serve, “you only need a heart full of grace. Soul generated by love.” He also says: “You don’t have to know about Pluto and Aristotle to serve.” The Ram ad ended with an on-screen slogan: “Built to Serve.” The ad generated a healthy amount of social-media backlash.
At the time, Fiat Chrysler said it had worked with administrators of King’s estate to gain approval for use of the speech.
The lengthy, emotion-stirring spots come at the direction of Francois, who has long been interested in finding ways to hitch his company’s cars to outsize cultural events. “We are always interested in considering partnerships with these special moments,” he told Variety in 2016.